Ctenosaura defensor

Image Credit : La Ferme Tropicale

Ctenosaura defensor Is the smallest in size in the genus Ctenosaura, but also the most colorful, with very variable color combinations: normally, the head and base of the tail have a gray color that during firing up times changes in A very light blue, the front back has streaks more or less uniform (sometimes stained spots) of a black pitch.

The back back has a red color that goes from red to rust, the females also have very accentuated coloration but have less developed head and the black dorsal frets normally do not reach the ventral zone as in the male, the tail has the classic arrangement of this Genus.

  • Scientific name : Ctenosaura defensor
  • Distribution : South Mexico
  • Average Size : 0.2 m (0.65 ft)
  • Life Span : 10 years or more
  • Difficulty : Advanced


Since Ctenosaura defensor are active lizards, they require spacious cages. I recommend 0.1 X 0.5 x 0.5 meters (3.2 x 1.6 x 1.6 feet) as a minimum size for a pair . Adult males are territorial, so only one male per cage is recommended. Some babies may be raised in a small group but close attention should be paid to ensure that all are eating well and growing at close to the same rate.
The minimum size we would recommend for 1 or 3 hatchlings would be 0.8 x 0. 3 x 0.3 meters (2.6 x 1 x 1 feet). The furnishing must be made with trunks of stones that grow in height and the substrate with sand of river.

Hide box

They are very timid animals so they need to get used to human presence so I recommend no more than a hiding place and above all this must be close to the heat source (spot) so that even if it chooses to hide for a long time, it would still be active to feed. I use a hiding box with river sand covered by a stone placed under the spot. The sand must remain damp in this hiding place. Ctenosaura defensor must have the flatness of being under the spot and if afraid it should be able to hide quickly in the hiding box while remaining at a high temperature.


I always used sand of river as a substrate and have had no problems with it. I like to keep it simple and use only sand of river,. This substrate is very easy to keep it clean. Although, I keep baby defensor on a paper substrate for their first year of life as babies are more easy to find food and water remain clean.

Lighting – Heating

As Ctenosaura defensor are diurnal , lighting is extremely important. I put the lights on electric timers, and give them about 10 to 12 hours of light each day. I use Solar Raptor 50 watt as the heat light. This lamp should be placed above the basking rock at the highest point of the rock when possible.
Basking temperatures in the cages range from 40 to 55 ºC (105-130 ºF) on the basking surface. The cooler end of the cage should be anywhere 29-31 ºC (84-88 ºF). I use Solar raptor also as UVB light. (all in 1 lamp)


The water they need is received from eating the fresh vegetables. Gravid females and females that recently laid eggs and babies have a higher need for additional water so get a dish in a cage . It is important to ensure that the cage substrate does not become wet or damp for extended periods of time.


Relatively high (40-80%) ideally, though they will tolerate higher humidity at times. An higher humidity hiding place is needed (with wet sand) near the basking place. The rest of the cage should remain dry. During the summer season I spray 3 times a week all the terrarium to stimulate reproductive activity.


Ctenosaura defensor are mainly herbivore but also need insects in their diet. In the wild they eat every day so in captivity fresh food should be available every day as well. A defensor diet is composed mainly of leafy greens like collard greens,, mustard greens, escarole, curly endive and dandelion greens. They like very much also pumpkin, melon, tomatoes and fruits of wood (raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, currant, gooseberry). I chop or shred the greens,fruits and vegetables into pieces small enough for the lizards to swallow without having to tear the leaves too much themselves as they tend to eat more.
Sometimes I mix the diet with Repashy (complete diet with crickets powder). I have noticed several benefits to adding this powder and mixed juice fruit to their diet. I also use as supplement on their food bee pollen. A calcium supplement with D3 should be used. Babies get the same leafy greens as the adults but they are chopped up into much finer pieces. From first days they can be fed with repashy powder (with fruit and cricket powder).
They like very much also insects but only offer to them twice a week. I use Zophobas morio (superworms), tenebrio molitor and twice a month also use Galleria mellonella. They don’t like catching flying and running insects so avoid to use crickets and so on… The secret to feed well and have success with Ctenosaura defensor is to change each day the kind of food because they get easily tired of eating the same food for several days.


They are very shy and is very difficult to tame down WC ones but with the CB babies all is easier. Anyway my WC trio after three years of breeding they have become much more peaceful and allow me to clean and administer the food without running to hide.


To avoid continuous stress, it is advisable to clean the cage once a week and change the substrate every 6 months. Keep the water clean by changing it every day. You have to take away unused food if they don’t eat it to always stimulate their appetite with fresh food.


Ctenosaura defensor tend to shed in patches, usually taking several weeks to completely shed (sometimes longer). Juveniles shed much more frequently than adults. Especially for the tail, having the plugs, takes a long time for the skin change process and sometimes it is necessary to manually help by removing the remaining parts that can lead to the bottlenecking and loss of part of the tail.

Potential Health Problems

The lack of a hiding area near the source of heat causes the animal’s lack of activity that leads to loss of appetite and depredation. It is very important for these reptiles to remain very active at high temperatures and strong lighting.
Ctenosaura defensor is very hard to keep especially if they are wc animals (in the reptiles fairs there are almost exclusively WC and CB are very rare) this is due to the fact that they do not easily get used to the captivity while remaining very shy and timid by getting hidden even for a long time without eating so slimming and then dying, so it is advisable, especially if you do not have an experience with these animals, to look for and take cb specimens, which on the contrary will be very friendly relaxed and will give many satisfaction in the terrarium.


Angelo D'alessandro

The information contained in this care sheet reflect the opinions and methods of the mentioned breeder, based on their expertise and long-established experience.